Why are there so few men in social work?

Diversity among social workers is essential, yet men are vastly underrepresented. Charlotte explores the reasons why and how men can make a huge difference in a role traditionally viewed as 'feminine'.

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Image courtesy of Charlotte Marlor

Only 14% of child protection workers are men. Yet more than half of the children involved in child protection plans are boys. What are the reasons for this disparity and why is it so important that more men become involved in the profession?

Social workers help families to solve social and personal issues by working with a range of different entities including children, parents and schools. The aim is to promote social change at grass-root level and empower people to make their own change by problem-solving in human relationships.

Traditionally, social work has been seen as a predominantly ‘female’ career path, and it continues to be viewed this way. The disparity could be partly explained by the role of gender biases.

Social work has associations with being a ‘caring’ role because it involves working with children and families. As caring jobs are more likely to be associated with women (such as nurses and carers), it is often viewed as being a female profession. The idea that women would be more suited to the job is just one of the out-of-date perceptions associated with the role.

Social work involves many other competencies, not only the ability to be empathetic and form relationships with children and families. The role requires resilience in difficult situations and demonstrating leadership through the ability to make difficult decisions that can affect a child’s future. It develops analysis and adaptability, effective communication and leadership.

I asked some of my male friends ‘why do you think that social work is a career with only 14% of the workforce being men?’ There was some confusion in their responses about social work and the kind of skills that would be required for the job. Having an ability to empathise and communicate with children was focused upon, and this is certainly part of a social workers role, but this overlooks competencies like leadership and resilience: two essential qualities. Attention towards the caring nature of social work supports a limited understanding of a profession which is incredibly tough and diverse in nature.

As Josh MacAlister, Frontline’s Chief Executive, says: ‘With boys making up over half of those in care, we want to encourage more male graduates and career changers to apply to Frontline and make a positive difference for some of the most vulnerable children and their families.’

It is incredibly important in social work to build a relationship with a child in order to communicate and resolve problems. Children involved in social-care may have been in households where they find it difficult to speak to a woman and would be much more comfortable talking to a man. More men in the profession could also provide role models for children who may not have yet developed positive relationships with men.

Miles Shipton, a Frontline fellow, said ‘It’s been a massive privilege to act as a role model for young people, boys especially, who have been going through difficult times. Families deserve a social worker they feel comfortable talking to, and as gender undoubtedly influences the building of relationships, it’s important that as much as possible is done to create a more diverse workforce.’

Different perspectives are essential to creating effective strategies for a family. Social work teams with a greater diversity of backgrounds will be able to contribute a greater range of perspectives in difficult discussions about solutions to cases in order to create better strategies.

Encouraging steps are being made by recruiters like Frontline to ensure that it becomes a more representative profession. One of Frontline’s main missions is to recruit a more representative male to female ratio, and so far up to 24% of its participants in previous cohorts have been male (ten percentage points higher than the national average).

Frontline offers a two-year Graduate Leadership Development Programme which allows participants to work towards a fully-funded master’s qualification in social work and become a qualified social worker, as well as earning a competitive graduate wage.